More Tips and Riffs From The Forty-Something Guy

I have been playing guitar for ten months and have discovered that its a lot of fun learning how to play but its also hard work. When you’re first learning the guitar its easy to get frustrated learning all the hard bits (like switching chords) so its important to make cool sounds while you’re learning. This article gives examples of various easy ways a beginner can make cool sounds. If you’re interested in how I chose to learn guitar, my previous article at Guitar Noise is Forty-something guy learns guitar via the Internet.

Power Chords and Double Stops

Doesn’t the term “power chords” sound impressive? Power chords and double stops are a simple idea – play 2 strings at the same time. They are also one of the best ways for a beginning player to make a powerful sound. Here are 3 examples – the good, the bad, and the peculiar:

Example 1

When I started learning guitar, I spent weeks practicing single note scales. One fateful night, I decided to play 2 strings at once (the “good” one from above). The resulting sound convinced me that playing the guitar was for me – it sounded so powerful and I did it by accident. The “bad” one sounds really dreadful. If you want to know why, you should check out this article, A Study On Intervals , by Jimmy Hudson. The “peculiar” one is actually playing an “A” note on two different strings. If you want something extra peculiar, try adding another “A” note on the 4th string (D) at the 7th fret and then give all 3 strings a good yank. This sound has been known to give small children nightmares so be careful where you play it.

This series of double stops tells the whole world that you are ending whatever you were playing:

Example 2

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Before You Accuse Me by David Hodge shows how to use double stops in a blues shuffle.

Scales can be fun

Some people have the idea that scales are no fun. As I mentioned in my first article, I started to learn guitar by practicing scales. It was a thrill to hear pleasant sounds coming from the guitar so I spend a lot of time investigating what I can do with scales. I read that lots of blues and rock songs use minor pentatonic scales and that the mixolydian scale is a very “bluesy” scale so I started off with these two. This is what they look like:

Example 3

Let’s see what we can do with the minor pentatonic scale. I like to play around the 5th Fret but you can do this anywhere on the guitar. Look at the minor pentatonic scale picture, above, and fret any two notes on adjacent strings and play both strings with your pick. Then, find another two notes and play them. Remember the ones that sound good and in no time at all, you’ll have something like this:

Example 4

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I have been fooling with this scale for 10 months and I’m still discovering new things.

Here are some interesting single note riffs I discovered while working with these scales. This one, played with the right rhythm, sounds like the guitar is actually talking to you (spooky!).

Example 5

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When I discovered the following riff, I had to eventually force my fingers to stop playing it – it sounds so sweet. It takes place entirely within the A Mixolydian scale:

Example 6

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I accidentally discovered the main riff of the Fats Domino song, I Want to Walk you Home while playing the A Mixolydian scale – like this:

Example 7

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You might notice that a lot of the notes have little dots. This was the only way I could figure out how to make the riff sound right. If you want to find out more about reading music, I found this article, Timing is Everything, by David Hodge quite helpful.

If you want more information about scales, check out this article by David Hodge, Scaling the Heights. A Mixolydian Scale Blues Guitar Riff, by Darrin Koltow, shows how to use the mixolydian scale to play a blues song.

Changing chords

When you’re struggling to smoothly change chords between a C, F, and G, its easy to forget that the reason you change chords is because it sounds nice. There are 3 chords that seem to be specially made so you can switch chords easily. Here they are:

Example 8

One of my favourite things is to start strumming and changing chords to see where my fingers take me. Its not always necessary to play other people’s songs. Make up one of your own. If you make up your own song, you can build in dramatic pauses that give you time to change chords – like this:

Example 9

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Remember, you don’t have to play all 6 strings. Try experimenting with a full chord alternating with single notes. The easy song for beginners, Fire shows a really cool way to do this. Many interesting articles about chords can be found at Guitar Noise. The Power of Three by David Hodge is a “must-read”.

Mannish Boy

I found a riff in the style of Mannish Boy by Muddy Waters that is really easy to play. This is the only thing that you need to learn:

Example 10

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You can perform the entire song by playing this riff, followed by a line of lyrics. You don’t even have to remember the lyrics because you can make up your own. For example,

I’m a man (play the riff)
A computer programming man (riff)
Way past 21 (riff)
Way past 41 (riff)
Uh huh, Uh huh (riff)

You could continue forever. By the way, Muddy Waters (and the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix) have way more complicated versions of this song.


To wrap things up, here is the intro from an obscure Canadian song from the early 1970’s. Its great fun to play. You can still get a good sound by just playing the notes on the 6th string (Low E). Anybody who emails me with the song title by December 31, 2005 will win a prize that will be delivered by return email.

Example 11

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Thanks for listening
Allan Abbott

P.S. At the bottom of most Guitar Noise pages, you’ll find a link that lets you donate money to Guitar Noise. If you’re like me, a lot of your guitar knowledge came from this site so use the link. You’ll feel better – guaranteed.